Thursday, October 29, 2009

Is the Greek the NIV?

I have been doing a touch of thinking, for a comment has me. . . slightly disturbed. In the comments on here concerning James the brother of Jesus it was noted that aramaic had no word for cousin, so the idea of calling James Jesus' brother could basically be meant to mean cousin.

I am well aware that there are a lot of Aramaic turns of phrase in Scripture - but are we going to say that the Greek is basically a lousy translation? Is the Greek the equivalent of the NIV? I mean, there are translation issues into Greek - but shouldn't we assume that the Words of Scripture are the actual words of Scripture that mean what they ought to mean?

Now, again, I don't think the comment was "insidious" - but doesn't that approach lead to a shift away from what the Word says and rather on to what we think it ought to say, if only Paul was as good at Greek as I am.


Rev. Larry Beane said...

Dear Eric:

Just because two languages function differently and have different words and idioms for things doesn't mean it is a "lousy translation." Latin, for example, has no single verb for "to point," but uses an idiom: "digito monstrare." This is not a "lousy translation," but rather how this is said in Latin. It goes the other way too. Latin has a verb "convenire" which we sometime have to translate into English using the awkward idiom "to go with." Neither is this an indictment of English or a "lousy translation."

The languages simply work differently.

We see a similar situation when we compare the genealogies of Jesus in Matthew and Luke. Skeptics tell us that this is a contradiction, that Joseph has two different fathers in these accounts.

This is because the skeptic is imposing English on the Greek (which, as you point out, among Jews, contains a lot of Hebraisms). Matthew's genealogy says Joseph's father was "Jacob" (Matt 1:16). But Luke's genealogy says Joseph's was the "son of Heli" (Luke 3:23) - when, in this case, the word "son" means "son in law."

There is no way to determine this by 1) reading the text as "nuda scriptura" and 2) understanding familial relationships only in their English translations.

But you will never convince a skeptic that this is not a contradiction, as he is convinced he has found a smoking gun, that all of the exegetes in the history of the Church are wrong, and he and he alone has discovered this "contradiction."

I find the same to be true among Protestants and Mary's perpetual virginity. Many of them are so eager to hurl a few stones at Rome that they don't even listen to their own fathers (meaning "ancestors") in the faith, even from their own traditions.

Instead, unlike their forefathers, they today make the same argument as Helvidius - whom Luther called "stupid" for holding such a view.

There has definitely been a change among most Lutherans in the last few decades as most now deny Mary's perpetual virginity - whereas Pieper's dogmatics fell firmly on the side of the PV in 1917.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...


This is precisely my point - we should look to what the Scriptures themselves say. In English we will make the distinction between "father" and "father-in-law" -- although in practice, my wife's parents are "Mom and Dad." Our reading of Scripture needs to be guided by what the Greek says, and what those words mean in Greek - not how English works -- nor should it be on how we think the Aramaic would have worked. The New Testament was not given to us in Aramaic, it was given in Greek.

Do note - I hope you didn't read me as asserting that I believed that the Greek is some type of "lousy translation" - quite the opposite - it is what we go by.

Rev. Larry Beane said...

The Greek of the NT was not spoken in a vacuum. Jews spoke and wrote differently than Pagans in Athens. Augustine wrote a different kind of Latin than Cicero or Caesar. And people in most regions of the English speaking world (I won't pick on Iowa like you-know-who this time) are going to be puzzled when a New Orleanian writes about "making groceries" or that he is "pinching tail and sucking head."

To deny the Hebrew/Aramaic influence on the Greek of the NT doesn't strike me as the best way to read Scripture.

This is the problem with reading the Bible in an academically sterile "nuda scriptura" environment - which typically also drains the blood of the church's tradition from the Bible and replaces it with the embalming fluid of individualism and reason.

Our Lutheran fathers did not do this, which is why they all, to a man, came to the very opposite conclusion from you on this matter.

I mean, it ought to at least give you pause that you are agreeing with Joyce Meyer, Billy Graham, Benny Hinn, and Bill Hybels, and you are diametrically opposed to Martin Luther, Martin Chemnitz, CFW Walther, and Franz Pieper on this (not to mention the Lutheran confessions themselves).

And the very exegesis you propose was specifically denounced by Lutheran dogmaticians for centuries.

But maybe we 21st century Americans know something about 1st century Greek that they didn't. But I kinda doubt it.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

I am not denying an aramaic influence on the Greek of the New Testament. Indeed, there are many Hebraic-looking constructions. However this - when it comes to vocab, I'm going to assume a Greek word tends towards it's Greek meaning.

Let us go for the simplest reading as possible. That is all I am saying - and let us not cloud the issue with linguistic theories to suit our personal piety (if one wanted to argue that the "brothers" were sons of Joseph from a previous marriage, that at least would not do damage to the text -- but cousins. . . too much).